SWB is feeling chirpy


Do you know what makes for a really dry writing week? Having a perfectly lovely mid-term break with your children. No, it’s still me, SWB, you haven’t tuned in to the wrong blog but I’m in an upbeat frame of mind, all aglow with feelings of bonhomie and gratitude.

This has been one of the most exceptional holidays where every day we’ve spent time with old friends, enjoying real, rich conversations. And we’ve had time to do so because the kids have been that little bit bigger, so have started listening and obeying orders and not throwing fecking wobblers every five minutes. They have actually been a delight. I’m in a mild state of shock myself, but it turns out that it actually does get easier.

Do you recall how you’d have been standing in the queue in M&S and the children would have been screaming because you wouldn’t let them buy a magazine with the pack of plastic shite taped to the front, and you’d have been close to tears with fatigue and desperation and some auld doll would have patted your arm and said “Don’t worry love, it gets easier.” I’d have stood, agog, wanting to  scream “When? When EXACTLY does it get easier because I AM BEYOND MELTED” and  wanting to beg the old dear to please, please take my off-spring for twenty minutes while I just went and stared at the short strappy dresses in Oasis and remembered a more carefree time.

Well it turns out that all the auld dolls in Forestside are bang-on-correct because this is the first holiday that we’ve spent at home, with the kids, and I haven’t felt the need to book myself into a retreat to recover. It helps, of course, that I have the most magnificent bunch of friends who have youngsters the same age so there have been playdates where we drink coffee and eat home-cooked fare and the kids have taken themselves off and played and even looked after the mini ones so we can talk in peace. I swear if it hadn’t been for these ladies (and yes mum and dad and the in-laws, you too) I’d have been in the loony bin long since.

Another thing we’ve introduced (and trust me, I was sceptical at how successful it would be) is a star chart. I’ve tried to implement this in the past and the kids just stuck on their own stickers and buggered about and into the bin they went (charts, not children though I was mightily tempted at times). However, suddenly they got the concept and requested that they have one like they have in school. So my Dad dutifully fashioned two out of some recycled card and bought some stickers in some book store in Bloomfields in Bangor and the results have rendered me speechless with glee. The small child has started eating her dinner if it means she gets a star. I have lost hours of sleep tormented that this youngster will be one of those rare and terrible cases of First World children who end up with rickets and beriberi because of the paucity of basic nutrients in their diet. Turns out she can put the broccoli away rightly if there’s a tangible reward in it. They have even volunteered to tidy up after themselves and help unloading the dishwasher, actually arguing about who gets to help more if there’s the promise of a trip to Smiths if they’ve accrued the requisite number of stickers.

They aren’t perfect of course: the place is a fecking tip this evening because they were tired and couldn’t be arsed lifting after themselves, but hey, they ate their dinner and were asleep by 7.45 so the debris can lie there, no one’s visiting so I’m not fussed.

Funniest thing was earlier this evening when I saw them drawing away quietly. “What’s that you’re up to?” I enquired. “We’re doing another star chat,” replied the older child. “Who’s it for?” I asked, imagining it was one of the dolls, or the cat. “You,” came the response.

“Me? Your mother, the boss of you pair?” I asked for clarification. “Yes,” said herself. “You get a star if you say “Excuse me” after you burp or parp, but none if you don’t.” “And” piped up the small child, “if you say bad words you get no stars. You are a very rude mummy.”

I can’t really argue with any of this because I’ve been plagued with trapped wind of late and if I were to excuse myself every time I burped I’d be hoarse. It’s one of the joys of being on a career break, being able to expel gas any which way without consequence, but I suppose I had better start training myself if I wish to return to the realms of professionalism at some juncture.

And the bad language, well, I just need to police myself and stop being so vulgar. Life is good and there is thus no need to go round peppering the air with expletives. If I stop listening to the news about the political impasse at Stormont and this Brexit nonsense then perhaps I’ll be less foul-mouthed. Lets’s see shall we? In the meantime, pats on the back all round. It’s been a glorious week and long may my positivity continue. Watch this space…

SWB enjoys stories. At dawn.


Outside it is very dark. It is very dark because it is 5.54 but this is of no import to the small child, who has clambered in beside me and is throwing her legs about and her tufty hair is tickling my nose. And so it begins, the first day of the holidays. The other one obviously senses a change in the force and wanders in and joins us, chatting animatedly.

My children do this, they wake up and they’re instantly ON. Then we hear a bell as the cat comes up the stairs. She starts tearing up the carpet with her claws to get attention. “Izzy, STOP that, you wee bugger,” I shout. The cat tears with increased vigour. (This is the same carpet I mentioned last night. It’s grey with alternating stripes of turquoise and yellow, subtle and elegant. It complements the golden hue of the walls, creating a warm soothing atmosphere. “STOP THAT, you wee bugger,” shouts the small child.

“I shall tell a story,” says the older one. “There is a pug called Pig and he is mean and does poos and farts and there is a sausage dog called Trevor and he always gets the blame.” “Lovely,” I say. “My turn,” says the small child. “There is a naughty rabbit called Pete and he goes to the shop to buy a fidget spinner but he has no purse! “What a silly rabbit,” we opine. “He went to the toilet to do a poo and his purse JUMPED out of his pocket. That’s why he has no money at the shop.” There is a lavatorial theme to the stories this morning. “That’s nana’s story! She always makes things fall down the toilet! interjects the older child. “Yes,” agrees the small one. And his mummy says “Move your purse , I need to do a pee!” So he gets those metal arm things you use for cooking, “Tongs?” I suggest. “Yes, metal arm things and takes out the purse. The end.” Thank God for that.

The cat jumps on the bed. And then there were four. “I may just feed this creature,” I sigh, and get up. It is 6.14. Happy Halloween, y’all.

I would like to add, that I have done very well off the drink. (Except Thursday when the older child turned six and we went to Scalini’s and my family were 45 minutes late. The kids were tired and my head was sore and I was like “Just give me a bottle of Shiraz. All of it, down my neck, immediately.”) But on Friday I had a tiny glass of red, on Saturday an even smaller one of white because it was horrible and I thought “I am worth more,” so I left it and had a Pukka Tea. And the last night, nothing! And me solo parenting. What a woman.

                                   How virtuous am I today,

What strength have I within,

To have wandered past The Vineyard

And refrained from going in.


SWB indulges in a spot of procrastination


Honest to God, the things you will do to get out of writing. I’ve read countless articles about freelancers who work from home and admit to wiling away hours on social media or having the tidiest Marie-Kondo style cupboards and beautifully empty laundry bins. They will iron pants and towels and the cat if it stops long enough, just to put off getting behind the screen and typing.


I’ve just experienced such a moment myself. I went for a quick pee there and stared at the new tiled floor and thought, “That could do with a quare scrub. I don’t think the mop’s going to cut it; this is a down on your hands and knees job.” Oooh er, that sounds as if I’m contemplating something much more lewd than a floor job. God that sounds even worse. PLEASE don’t let the mother be reading this one or there’ll be another irate phone call from a pensioner.


It’s an opportune moment for such cleaning tasks because LSB is in Dublin drinking post marathon pints and enjoying listening to people commiserate with him after he took powerful cramps at mile eighteen and had to hobble round the remaining eight in a terrible state. Well, IMHO if you will go running twenty-six miles you’re asking for a world of trouble. It’s really as well he’s down there with like-minded folks since I’m stuck here with a sinus infection and after entertaining youngsters all day (poorly, I might add) I wouldn’t be the most sympathetic to his plight.


As I was saying, this would be a good time to get a-scrubbing because the children are now, mercifully asleep so won’t be smearing the floor with dirt from their little trotters, and LSB isn’t here to wander in still wearing his trainers. I tried to implement a ‘no shoes indoors’ policy and I wasn’t even mocked, just downright ignored. I swear to God, we had the lovely new carpet in a day, a fecking day, and your man comes in from a run round the forest, not even the track, and straight up the stairs he goes, leaving bits of damp grass and dirt and f**k knows what all over the joint. I was none too pleased. And you can say nothing, for all you get is “What? All I did was come the stairs to get showered!” “Yes, in your dirty bogging shoes ON MY NEW CARPET!! “Sure it’ll be covered in juice and biscuits in no time,” says he, by way of an excuse. Well I’m not fussy about the juice and biscuits. What I am fussy about is microscopic bits of dog shit because those dogs run amok in Belvoir forest and I’ve enough to contend with without getting the Dettol out and start into that level of cleaning of an evening. Except maybe if I’m supposed to be writing. Then maybe I might welcome the diversion.


I can’t get the floor out of my head now, I’m away to give it a quick once over with the mop, as a kind of compromise.


(And I don’t really mean that runners; you know I think you’re all fantastic really, especially those doing it for charity. Great lads, the lot of ye.)

SWB gets some feedback



Nine-fifty-five of a Sunday evening and the phone goes. It’s the mothership, who else?

MOTHER: “I’m just ringing because I’m on your thing here, you know your blog and I’m after seeing a rogue apostrophe. You need to get on to that. I mean I know you know, but it’s an elementary mistake and one you’d be annoyed if people picked up on. You really ought to run these by me first. Quite obviously they’re done in haste.”

ME: “I’m on to it!” I correct the error and enquire about her day. Then she gets on to the real reason she’s called.

MOTHER: “I’m just thinking, and perhaps you’ll disagree, but is it wise to go round putting that sort of information on line about yourself?”

ME: (EXASPERATED SIGH) “What sort of information?”

MOTHER: “Phrases such as “Roaring drunk”. I wouldn’t go round admitting that if I were you. You don’t know who reads this blog and I’m telling you, if it were any of my friends they would be disgusted. I think it’s quite dreadful really.”

ME: “Well if they went on and read the blog they would see that it was a few glasses of wine and some beer, probably the mix of which did me in. I was out for a meal with friends and got a bit carried away. I wasn’t shooting up crack.”

MOTHER: “Hmmmph.”

ME: “And regular readers know I’m prone to hyperbole.”

MOTHER: “You’re prone to something. But all very foolish, in my opinion. What are you doing now?”

ME: “I’m just having an Indian with a beer.”

MOTHER: “A WHAT? I thought you were off it!! Is that not what I’m just after reading?”

ME: “I’m reducing it, and it’s one beer. It’s also getting warm.”

MOTHER: (AGGRIEVED TONE): “I’ll be on my way then.”

ME: “I think that’s probably best.”

SWB bins the gin (almost)

IMG_1481Fancy a challenge anyone? How about no alcohol, for an entire year. Could you do it? I have major issues just contemplating Lent, which, incidentally, I’ve never managed. Alcohol has insidiously woven its way so deeply into our collective social consciousness that it’s difficult to contemplate its absence from our lives.


But fair play to my friend Amberlea who has boldly undertaken the challenge. She is currently on day 84 of 365 days, sans alcohol, and is documenting the progress on her blog, SilverandAmber. She admits it’s the commitment to the writing that is motivating her to keep off the quare stuff, but in cutting out the booze she’s acknowledging what many of us are loathe to admit, that we have an increasing reliance on drink.


So I too did something uncharacteristic last night. I went to the same party as Amberlea, and I drove. I cheated a bit by having a small glass of wine on arrival, to clink glasses with my friend who was celebrating her birthday, then I drank tonic water. In some ways it was easy. There were many good friends in the room, none of whom would have goaded me to drink. Not drinking booze didn’t mean I enjoyed our conversations less and probably meant that I was better company. I’m always chatty, but wine makes me more garrulous, one might say annoying. I’ve never had much of a filter anyway so a couple of stiff gins obliterates it completely. People up and down the country have been hearing stories of my intestinal tract since 1996.


In her new book, Quit Alcohol (for a month) Helen Foster recommends drinking tonic water on its own with lots of ice and a good squeeze of lime as it mimics the real thing. She makes a valid point. I knew this from working in a bar as a student and being told that bartenders sometimes gave customers who were rightly on their way a glass of tonic with a touch of gin (or vodka) rubbed around the edge and a squeeze of lemon. They didn’t notice the difference. I thought this was a rather good idea; saving them from themselves.


So much of drink is the ritual. Swirling the ice in the glass first to chill it, the hiss as you pop the cap off the Fevertree tonic, the glug of the Shortcross and the squeeze of lime at the end. Well I got all of that, minus the gin. Amberlea was drinking a very palatable non-alcoholic wine with green tea out of a dinky twenties style cocktail glass. In a tailored white sequenced top she was the Daisy Buchanan of the party, except she’s lovely, while most Gatsby fans will agree that Daisy is an asshole.


Last week I got roaring drunk. I attended a spectacular evening at Boden coffee shop on the Ormeau when the owner handed the reins over to glorious duo Jo and Erin of ‘The Edible Flower’. Together they put on a supper club of five tempting courses fusing Mexican and Vietnamese cuisine. It couldn’t have been more up my street, I was practically fizzing with glee. Jo concocted an aperitif and handed us this golden thing of beauty on arrival. It was autumn in a glass, with citrus and honey and a good kick of rum at the finish. She brews her own beer from foraged nettles and the like, so with each course came a soupçon of hoppy, malty loveliness. It was a BYO event so I came armed with a bottle of Macedonian Red. From what I can recall it was mighty good.


But Sunday morning. Oh Holy God. That bit when you raise your head from the pillow and think “What did I NOT drink last night?” before collapsing again. Beery fumes and garlic from the sopa d’ajo competed for supremacy in my nostrils. And oh joy! I was off to the park with the kids for Junior parkrun. Thankfully LSB was on board for moral support and had made the coffee suitably strong.


Instead of reflecting upon the evening as the delight it was, I felt sick and silly. My gorgeous friends said no, I hadn’t been overly verbose and yes, they would indeed go out with me again and to stop being so fretful. But I’d been managing my drink intake well since the holidays and I had a sense of toppling off the wagon, face first.


But this morning, it was with intense relief when I blinked upon my eyes and wasn’t set upon by dark thoughts and throbbing temples. I had a hurrah-for-a lack-of-gin moment, then I set about my day. I’m dining out with LSB tonight and I’m in the Northern Lights as I tap away here, but I’m starting with the Fevertree. That way I can sip a glass of wine with dinner and when I’m taking the kids to a party at Funtastic in the morning, I won’t want to bury myself in a quiet corner of the ball pit and wish for death.

SWB on bill dodgers and frenemies



LSB and I were parked in front of the TV the other night  watching the film Trainwreck with Amy Schumer.  It’s bold and outrageous, just don’t watch it with your mammy beside you as she’ll turn all shades of puce. The scenes which tickled me in particular were those starring LeBron James. Of course I didn’t know who it was. “Should I know who that really tall fella is?” I asked LSB. “You should, but you won’t, of course,” he replied, going on to explain that he’s possibly the most famous basketball player in the world and plays a kind of caricature of himself in this movie.

Apparently he’s unerringly generous in real-life but he’s portrayed in the film as being exceptionally tight, whipping out the calculator app on his phone to divide up who-ate-what for lunch, and driving across town to pick up a pair of cheap sunglasses he’s left behind. He’s a multi millionaire NBA star and in one scene he’s frantically patting his pockets to find he’s forgotten his wallet so his best friend has to cough up for the bill.

Well this made me think of all the excruciating times I’d been out with friends or colleagues and the waiter brought the bill and a terrible hush had descended and all bonhomie was long gone in case some one was diddled out of a pound. I have to admit, if some of these individuals had done a Lebron James and got their calculator out, I’d  have been so relieved they were actually going to pay AT ALL that I might have broken into applause. If there’s one thing I can’t bear, it’s a bill dodger.

A friend of mine went on a charity bike race which involved travelling with a group of people they didn’t  know. Arriving in Vienna late one evening, they found themselves in the only restaurant that could squeeze them in, but was considerably more expensive than they had anticipated. However, since they were tired and half-starved, in they went and were busy ordering the moules frites or pasta special to keep the cost down. All of them, that is, except for Mervyn, who’s getting wired into the filet steak and chips and orders a fine bottle of red. And you’ve guessed it, when the bill comes, there’s not a mention that his meal cost double everyone else’s. He had the audacity to do the same the following evening, but by the third night the party broke up. People went off in twos and threes and so sickened were they by his stinginess, that the whole trip felt a bit flat by the end, and the fizz went clean out of the celebration.

A lack of generosity never makes anyone feel good, but the person with whom we are often the least magnanimous is ourselves. I could self-flagellate for Ireland. I’ll torture myself over a misplaced apostrophe or a spelling mistake in something I’ve fired out into the ‘cloud’ to torment me for all eternity. I won’t give myself any credit for the fact that I’m finally writing after many years of wanting to, but not having the balls to start. Instead, I’ll berate myself whole-heartedly for what I got wrong. It’s not just me either; it’s a human thing, or more specifically, a woman thing. We seem hot-wired to sabotage our own happiness, or contentment.

Now please, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t expect the best from ourselves and go all Californian and clap ourselves on the back saying “Good work buddy!” for writing some shite or buying someone a coffee. But a little self–love can go a long way.

Years ago I had a friend for whom stinginess was a life choice. She would never miss an opportunity to avoid paying for a round or weaselling a drink or a meal out of the rest of us. If one foolishly acquiesced and paid her way  she’d accept the drink smugly with an expression which said clearly “Sucker! Got them again!” And this lack of generosity wasn’t limited to money either. We were friends for a long time, and I don’t think she ever, knowingly, paid me a compliment. What she did have, however, was a forensic memory for any past indiscretions, or moments when you weren’t your best self. I’d be sitting, a forkful of curry raised to my lips and all smiles she’d say: “Do you remember the time when you….” and zoom in on some shame inducing moment from our student days, and parade it for public consumption. I’d feel a hot rush start at in my cheeks and flame down my neck until I was aglow with mortification. Thus discombobulated I’d probably be duped into paying twice what I owed in an effort to scarper, and dampen my embarrassment with a bottle of wine.

We’re not friends anymore. Life is busy and emotionally taxing enough without hanging out with people who make me feel small. I ignore friend requests on Facebook from  people if I have no desire to meet up in person.  Maintaining a friendship requires effort, but if you care for the person you shouldn’t have to think of ways to manage the situation, figuring out ways of protecting your time, your emotions or your wallet. A good requirement in a friend, especially one whom you’ve known from school or university, is a big heart and a short memory. It would have saved me much aggravation if I’d worked that out sooner.


SWB and the joys of casual conversation


Here’s how last Saturday went. I was wearing what I believed to be quite a fetching outfit, a wine coloured pinafore with an embroidered flower, all the way from Barcelona, of course. I’d paired it with my ubiquitous red Camper boots with a pink heel, because I pair these with just about everything, other than my sporty ensembles.


The children were at their Spanish class so I had 50 minutes to whittle away as I chose, so I perched at the bar in Kaffe O and got merrily stuck into the boiled eggs and rye bread. I was reading the Weekend magazine from the Guardian, and was engrossed in the story of Pakistan’s answer to Kim Kardashian; a reality TV star, for whom transgressing gender boundaries didn’t end well. I was thus engaged and sipping my one shot latte when an acquaintance from park run stepped up with a thrilled expression and began tapping my tummy and congratulating me. She made some pre-emptive cooing noises, as though the baby was already here, ensconced in a car seat beside me. Except there was no baby, and there was no foetus, because I am not pregnant. I have not been pregnant for five years. I have however, had two children by caesarean section and recurring bouts of IBS. I’m also not in a mood to be trifled with.


“No,” I say wearily, shaking my head and swallowing a large mouthful of coffee. “It have really bad IBS. That’s all.” “But,” says Inspector Clouseau, “you haven’t been running. I’ve seen you at park run, and you haven’t been running. “Well I did today!” I correct her. “And we take turns looking after the kids, so we can’t get to run every Saturday.” On she lingers, and tired of justifying my plump tum and exercise habits I curtly say goodbye and turn back to my eggs, which are rapidly cooling, as boiled eggs are wont to do.


So the poor woman, I’m sure she felt I was rude and dismissive but maybe she’ll think twice before going round pawing anyone else’s stomach, unless there’s a pool of amniotic fluid at their feet and she’s ringing an ambulance with the other hand. Then it’s ok, I’ll let her off with it.


I text LSB to give off. “Sake” he texts back, swiftly followed by another one, “You’re not are you?” I let him sweat a bit before I respond, but last time I checked you have to have sex to get pregnant and there hasn’t been much of that carry on, what with my vexatious gut.


I fended off enquiries on holiday too. There was a lovely waitress, who’d served me poolside glasses of wine and carajillos (that delicious fusion of expresso and Bailey’s) for five days on the trot. “You have two lovely little girls,” she smiled. “Hrrrmph” I say, as they haven’t been at their most endearing that morning (nor the 3 consecutive mornings for that matter). “And I see you have another on the way! I am just noticing!” “No,” I sigh. And she’s a sweet girl and I don’t want to be rude or have to start detailing my intestinal woes so I just get back to my book and question my decision to wear a bikini.


I was showing one of my Catalan purchases to my mum and foolishly asked if she thought it was nice. “Well you do know it makes you look pregnant,” she said. Well I fucking do now, thank you very much.


And finally, (and then I’ll stop, I promise) I wander into Al Gelato with children in tow and another lady I know is enjoying a coffee. “So when’s this one due?!” she asks gaily, eyeing my midriff. I churn out the same old craic, “No I’m not,” blah blah blah…. But then she says, “But you just look so tired!” I mean, honest to God! Do you remember the month of July when your children are very small? Who doesn’t look flipping exhausted? Why don’t you just assess my dire pore situation while you’re at it, and here, don’t leave out my hands, which with their protruding veins are soon going to require gloves AKA Sarah Jessica Parker in the last series of ‘Sex and the City’. I’m a car wreck, and incidentally it was great to catch up. I shall trot on, with my ego inflated no end.


Phew, I’m glad I got that off my chest.


I discuss the matter with my friend who’s a midwife over dinner on Friday night. She’s quite animated on the subject. “Unless someone’s told you they’re expecting, it’s never safe to assume. I tend not to, unless I see a head between labia.” “Quite,” I agree.


So I’m in a bit of a quandary. The IBS has flared up royally, despite my Colpermin peppermint tablets and a reduction in the wheat and the dairy and the caffeine. (I mean FFS, is it worth getting out of bed in the morning?) Wearing jeans is off the table because they’re frankly cruel on my tummy and as I said, I developed a powerful fondness for ice cream over the summer and I was also a serious cake botherer. I am thus carrying an extra couple of kilos. So I’ve been wearing little tunics over tights and leggings, and sometimes a dress. And I suppose, because I’m not a big person in general, the excess around the middle does protrude and people make assumptions. But they’d be wise to keep these to themselves. I’m thinking of my friends who would like to be pregnant, but aren’t. I’m thinking of the friends who’ve had miscarriages. Or frankly, of anyone who’s in any way sensitive and could live without being insulted. Imagine if they pop out for a bit of peace in a coffee shop and some half-wit comes along and ruins their day.


I have the misfortune to have an obstreperous bowel. It’s merely irksome, and thank God it’s nothing more sinister. Fortunately I’ve also developed a thick hide over the years. The aforementioned may be less able to cope with throw-away remarks, so these are best kept to oneself. Unless you’ve seen the two lines on a stick, people, keep it zipped. And when I was pregnant, I had an aching back and I felt putrid for nine months, so if it did happen again, believe me, everyone would know about it. The sourness was legendary.







SWB tries to take a load off….


I’m a great one for having fanciful notions. For years I imagined attending a yoga retreat, and it played out something like this. I’d be decked out in Lorna Jane to suit the occasion. I’d be early, so would take a stroll beforehand, perhaps a light lunch, taking time to channel the zen within, so I’d be receptive to the yogic vibes as soon as I set foot in the place. My triceps would be toned and my belly taut, since I’d have been flat-to-the-mat in training so I’d be pliable and bendy for the weekend activity. I’d rock up in a convertible, with some dinky hand luggage and present my coiffed, svelte self at the appointed hour.


At no point in this reverie was I a sweaty, flipped-out mess, in a clapped out Corsa.


Here’s how it actually rolled. You’ve perhaps read the previous post, in which I was assailed with images of Armageddon and my nerves were shot and LSB bundled me off to a retreat in the hope that I’d chill the fuck out (his words). It didn’t start well. After the circuitous trip I was nearly foiled at the last hurdle, since when I finally reached the lodge, it remained unattainable, as there was a gate and a big windy country lane leading down to the premises. The gate was electric and had a buzzer. A buzzer which needed a code, which I of course, didn’t have. I’d no notion so was standing looking utterly gormless, when two lovely ladies drew up and came to my assistance. One noted my defeated expression and said “You’re not having a good day, are you love?” Too bloody right.


Not being half-wits, they supplied the code and in we drove and the retreat organiser Stuart greeted us at he door. He was a sprightly sort of a fellow. “Welcome welcome!” said he, relieving me of my bag, and hot-footing it up the stairs two at a time. Already he was the embodiment of this healthy living lark. His partner Martina, sat serenely in the kitchen, nursing her baby boy and emanating calm. “Juice, tea, bowl of borscht?” offered Stuart before showing me to the room I’d be sharing for the weekend with two others. It was a dorm, but not in the conventional Malory Towers sense. Oh no. It boasted two sets of over-sized bunk beds with delicate wispy curtains and enough space for a bedside lamp and one’s various accoutrements. I started to make mental notes so LSB could erect something similar for the girls.


I felt myself begin be decompress. I was only through the door, so this was strange indeed. I’m an uptight sort of a creature. It was a Friday afternoon; I was in a strange place, with people I didn’t know, and no mention of a G&T. “This is very curious,” I thought.


“We’ll have our first class in 15 minutes” called Martina, so in I went to meet the rest of the yogis in the living room where a fire crackled. We took in the panoramic views of the lush verdant landscape. “There’s two more joining you later, so you’re an intimate wee group,” Stuart informed us. There was a nurse from Dublin, a sales rep from Cultra and two ladies from Antrim who were a scream. ‘I’ve never done yoga in my puff” said Mary. “I’m only here because of her,” she nudged her friend. “And I’ve brought my Barry’s tea, I’m not having any of that other nonsense”. My sort of woman. There wasn’t a pretention among them. And no Lorna James or Lu Lu Lemon either, so I fitted in just fine in my H&M and Decatholon combo.


Martina led us outside through to the studio which was a converted stable, complete with wood burner and yet more views over the mountains. The smoke from the burner and the pine resin reminded me of a lodge near Budapest we’d visited on honeymoon, and when Martina, who hails from the Czech Republic began her instruction I felt entirely transported elsewhere.


Normally I practise Vinyasa Flow yoga, which when you’ve built up the rhythm feels like a fusion of yoga and dance. But Martina is a trained Iyengar teacher, which would be my least preferred if I’m honest; I say this because there is a lot of time spent arranging props; tying belts, arranging yourself on cushions and folding blankets and shoving them under your buttocks to perfect the pose. Frost says in his poem ‘For once, then something’ that he’s ‘always wrong to the light’ and that’s me in an Iyengar class, still buggering about with a belt when everyone else has held their pigeon pose for three minutes. But I persevere and it’s a judgement free zone. It’s also hard to contemplate the possibility of nuclear fall out when you’re suspended by a rope in an attempt to perfect your downward dog. It’s a good diversion. “Make your collar bones smile”, intones Martina, and after all the heart openers I’m breathing more expansively than I have in years. I expect to feel tight after three tough sessions but when I wake on Sunday I feel as though all the knots and tension have been scooped out from between my shoulder blades. Miraculously there is room there. After every relaxation I fall into a dreamy stupor of semi-consciousness, and leave the studio in a somnambulant state.


Maybe the lack of caffeine also contributes to my drowsiness. We wake each morning to the sounds of Stuart tinkling with a juicer to whizz up green smoothies; he fires in spinach and kale, pepped up with pineapple or apple juice to sweeten it up. And ginger. Ginger’s the Kate Moss of spices these days. “Is it a Nutri-Bullet you have there?” asks Maura from Dublin. “No, it’s an American yoke, you just chuck it all in and give it a good old rev” explains Stuart. There is much talk about juicing and fasting and food fads over the weekend. Tara, another Dubliner, recalls grim memories from the solicitor’s office where she works, where employees had a penchant for juice diets. This wasn’t conducive to a mellow working environment. Starving, they were. And ratty with it. “The secret is adding avocado or banana, maybe some yogurt,” explains Kerrie, who has done fortnight long juice retreats in Turkey and returned all aglow. I’m stunned, frankly. What kind of eejit would think they could work all day with nothing only juiced up orange and celery to sustain them? And these are people in the legal profession, who are meant to have brains. No wonder the country’s in a state of chassis. Tara’s boyfriend was the only fellow in the group, and he was an enormously relaxed sort of a bloke, so it wasn’t a bother to him at all. He was very new to yoga too, which suggests this is a weekend for anyone.


We enjoy a ‘meditative walk’ each morning through dew drenched fields where we are encouraged to clear our minds and focus on our senses. It’s eight am, so it’s a relief not to be making conversation, and we listen instead to the babbling brooks and the cawing jackdaws and pluck blackberries off the hedges as a pre-breakfast snack.


At mealtimes the table creaks under the homemade fare. It may be meat free, but no one’s going home hungry, and flavour is KING. Coconut and yogurt feature heavily and everything, from the carrot and cashew soup to the pistachio and almond cake and mango mousse feels like an indulgence. When Stuart pops a bowl of Sri Lankan curry before me, the zinginess of the lime and coriander filtering through the steam have me transported back to the East. I could be sitting round the table in Cambodia before I’ve even had a mouthful. And yes, as I said, no booze. Oh, how thrilled am I to find that conversation and laughter still flow, without waking up the next morning with that dreaded feeling, “What the fuck did I disclose last night to a group of strangers?” Even after our walk along the Táin Way into Carlingford on the Saturday, no one slips off for a cheeky pint. Our self-control is mighty. It’s a relief actually, when we spot the hen and stag parties, not to be joining them for a night on the tear.


There’s just one problem. When I’m away from home, and out of my routine, I may think I’m relaxed, but my gut knows otherwise. And despite fruit salad, peppermint tea, milk keffir and cashew nut burgers (or perhaps because of these, they were a bit on the dense side) I get completely, and utterly constipated. I’ve written before about the cranky nature of my bowels and how really, they need to be treated with extreme caution. Maybe the lack of caffeine was the problem. But by Sunday my guts had properly taken umbrage at the dietary changes inflicted upon them. My lower abdomen looked as though someone had taken a balloon pump to it. There was no way on God’s sweet earth that I was adopting any class of a yoga pose in front of anyone. So I made my apologies and took my leave after the morning stroll. The hosts were gracious and eager for me to stay. “Ahh don’t go,” says Stuart. “Take a book and sit by the fire and have your lunch with the gang.” But to quiet the turmoil within, I politely declined and hoofed it back up the road, to the comfort of my own bathroom.


But despite the aggravated guts, I felt a great deal more settled in myself and I’ll gladly return if they’ll have me. (it’s been a fortnight since the event, and I’m glad to report that innards have returned to normal, or as normal as mine ever are).




SWB embarks on a road trip


“Right, come here til you see this.” LSB has been Googling away to himself, and for once he’s not looking at expensive running watches. We’re drowning in Garmins here. “There’s a yoga retreat in Carlingford this weekend, and I think you should go.” Usually, when there’s any mention of Carlingford, I’m thinking of Ghan House and gourmet meals and wine aplenty. I’m not contemplating abstinence and downward dogs. But a bit of time away and enlightenment sounds good, maybe even essential.  I’ve been a bit glum since coming back from the holiday, consumed with apocalyptic dread. Now listen, I know. Let’s get someone from Barbuda on the line and they’ll have something to say about me feeling morose. “You’re feeling low you say? YOU’RE FEELING LOW? We’ve no fecking island left! Not a pot to piss in! So tell me again what your first world problem is?”


That’s the thing though about a dose of the blues; you feel shite for feeling shite, hence it’s a vicious circle. I’ve woken up every morning feeling like someone has put a brick on my chest. It’s been hard to shift. I’ve cut the booze consumption and been running and yoga-ing and attending some arty events. This has gone some way in taking me out of the mire that is my state of mind right now. I have many wonderful friends who thole my neuroses and tolerate my company. My brother has just returned from a long sojourn in Taiwan and the children are happy and excited to see him. The world just seems such a sad and dangerous place that I can’t help but be edgy and neurotic. I know how senseless it is to waste time worrying about things beyond my control, but my mood is bleak and I’m much sourer than usual. No wonder LSB Is looking rid of me…


I booked a place on the course and off I set. It was a lovely trip, listening to Radio Four on quiet roads until I reached Newry where there was a 4 mile tail back. I ended up taking to the back roads. The narrow lanes were clogged with lorries far too big for them. They were a metaphor for my head. My poor overworked neurons knew how those country roads felt. There was reversing and stalling and improbable maneuvering.


When I finally reached Newry every road in and out was so snarled and congested I started wondering if I’d missed something. Had Hurricane Irma re-directed here and was everyone legging it? And if so WHY HAD NO ONE TOLD ME? I breathed deeply. Nearly there now…


In another act of gross stupidity I neglected to print the exact address so I ended up harassing the owner of the petrol station in Omeath. He was lovely. He drew me a map and when he noticed my inability to tell left from right he said, “Look at your watch, that’ll help you. No, the other hand. That’s your LEFT hand.” He and three men discussed the location “It’s huge, you can’t fucking miss it….oh, sorry love,” (they must have thought I looked posh, or easily offended). They gathered outside to watch me leave and ensure I took the correct road. I feared they might ring some Belfast institutions to see if they were missing any inmates. I reached the top of the mountain and I still could n’t see where I was supposed to be, so I stopped and looked imploringly at a sheep farmer going about his business. His herd eyed me quizzically. “I’m a bit stressed,” I explained, unnecessarily, since I looked a frazzled mess. “And lost too.” “It’s grand” he said. “You’re on the right road, you just need to back up a bit and stop when you see the electric gate.” The penny dropped, I knew exactly where to go, I’d just zoomed past it the first time round. The farmer was still shaking his head and saying “The stress, the stress, it’ll kill us all, I’m telling you” when I drove off. I managed to calm myself down and found Eagle’s Rock Retreat within 3 minutes. Boy, was I ready for some yoga.


If you’re thinking of getting lost, I recommend Omeath; they’re a great bunch of lads.

(More on the retreat itself to follow).

SWB on Culture Night


“I’m reading on Culture Night” I tell LSB in a fit of excitement. “Super, good for you!” he replies. He’s a good sort really, despite his aversion to cleaning. You’d think he’d be fed up listening to me, since he has to hear me wittering on every day, since that’s what you sign up for when you say “I do”. He also came down to the 10×9 event at the Black Box on Wednesday night to hear me telling my tale about Réunion Island. My brother and my mum came too, and some friends tried to join us but were turned away at the door, such was the turn out. They’ll be using the Waterfront at this rate. The Wise Old Elf didn’t make it. “Just as well” I said. I don’t think he’d appreciate the bit about the marijuana. Or the stealing. Wouldn’t go down well.”  “No, it was the bit about the wee goat,” says my mum. “He’d be demented, he loves goats. I don’t think he could stick listening to a story about you eating one.” He’s a sensitive soul, my dad. Partial to a bit of chicken or a plate of mince mind; he’s not exactly Linda McCartney. Still, we all have our foibles.


“So where is it you’re reading?” asks LSB. “Oh it’s very handy,” says I. “The Hallows on the Ormeau Road.” He starts to go a funny colour. I think he’s misheard. “You know, the gallery, with Dylan, the fella that made a fuss of the girls, then got marrIed in a castle in the summer, in a kilt?” (my children were obsessed with castles after having a chat with Dylan one day, and the small one is determined that she’s marrying her friend Sam in Ballygally. She says we can come if we want, which is big of her, since we know who’ll be paying for it).  “Of course I know Dylan, I’m worried because it’s an ART gallery and you’re not safe to be let loose anywhere that sells any class of a picture,” sighs LSB, looking forlorn. He’s still getting over the extension we built and art galleries aren’t good for his nerves, as I tend to run amok. Ginger Bistro is another disaster area as I tend to drink too much and get excitable, leaving the premises with a belly full of crispy squid and a lovely picture under my arm. Sometimes LSB clambers into the taxi after me looking utterly bemused as to what’s just happened.

He looks stern. “We go in, you read, and you look STRAIGHT ahead. I don’t care if there are paintings by Stephen Shaw or Seán Nichol,” he says, craning his neck to see the invitation. “You just focus on the task at hand and off we go.”

So that’s me told then. Spoil-sport. If you’re in the area, and fancy popping by, it should be very pleasant. (And if you see me eying up any art, try and distract himself).